Wired to the data breach


It all started with an article in WIRED – Group Spots Giant Hacks by Combing Small Newspapers by Kim Zetter, about how intrepid researchers had found patterns in the customer breach notifications coming from regional banks around the US which led them to suspect a wide-ranging data breach. The researchers are all part of a nonprofit volunteer organization – the Open Security Foundation, that posts the result of its research on the DataLossDB.org website. We decided we wanted to see patterns too, especially if it could help focus our customers on new and upcoming security risks. We contacted the foundation and set about visualizing data breach incidents. The result is the map you see above, which you can play with at www.voltage.com/data-breach. Just click on any of the red areas of the world map – clearly not every country reports data breaches, but whatever information is available publicly will eventually find its way into the foundation's database. We marked the incidents with rectangles, the size of which is determined by the number of records breached – just like earthquake maps. A lot of recorded incidents, up to 30%, do not specify the number of records lost however.

In building out the map, we decided to conduct our own statistical analysis of the data – with surprising results.

The analysis, which you can read about in more detail in our blog posts and in this paper, shows that while there is a constant low-level stream of incidents, there are epidemic like qualities to the breaches i.e. you can model the incident data to the point where it's possible to predict the magnitude and frequency of future breaches (just click on the map and press the "Future"" button to see the predictions). It will be interesting to do this analysis again in a year to see if the companies have implemented sufficient safeguards to lower future breach incidents.

We also wanted to find a way to assess the impact of breaches on ordinary consumers – this is difficult to do. The location of a breach though interesting doesn't necessarily represent the sphere of impact. So we settled on a very simple gauge that looks at the number of breaches in the last 90 days to determine the severity level. We're hoping that that the severity level drops to elevated soon.

There are more patterns in the incident data and we'll be covering those in future posts.

We are most grateful to the team at the Open Security Foundation for helping us with this project to shine a little light on data breaches – and we congratulate them on winning SC Magazine's Editor's Choice Award 2009.

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